Why I Left the GOP After 40 Years

I joined the GOP on my 18th birthday in 1976. I was a gung ho young conservative. I voted for Ford, Reagan, Bush, Mondale, W, McCain, and Romney. Never once did I think of leaving the party of Lincoln… until 2015.

Not that I hadn’t had some misgivings about the direction I saw the GOP heading.

Under Reagan, I was disgusted with Iran – Contra and never felt fully comfortable with the whole trickle down nonsense. It certainly wasn’t trickling down to anyone I knew. (Of course, that’s just a perception, but when I looked at the numbers, I didn’t see any hard proof.)

I was quite concerned with the changes I saw take place under Newt Gingrich. I felt that he was militarizing Congress in a way that would inject ever greater division between liberals and conservatives. I felt the whole Clinton impeachment was a farce.

Under W, I grew increasingly alarmed by the changes ushered in by both parties after 911 – trading liberty for security, and starting an unjustified war in Iraq. And then came my growing frustration with the fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP, cranking up our deficit in order to deliver tax cuts.

But my alarms REALLY started going off watching the GOP response to the 1st black president. I didn’t vote for Obama and reacted to his election with near depression. At the time, there were many of his policies I felt were dangerous to this country. But, what I wasn’t concerned about was his race, his Muslim sounding name, or his honesty. I’m not saying I don’t think he ever lied. After all, he is a politician. But, as politicians go, I have to honestly admit that he did a fairly decent job of speaking truthfully about the majority of his policies, beliefs, and goals.

That’s why it bothered me so deeply to watch the Republican members of Congress behave in such an extreme fashion. They made Newt’s militarization approach look tame in comparison. This wasn’t just militarization, this was Nuclear militarization. Never have I seen a single party so entirely demonize an opposing President.

The refusal to cooperate in any way, shape, form or fashion on the healthcare reform debate, even when Democrats offered an olive branch by basing their proposal on a Republican plan, is beyond the pale. Instead of trying to honestly address a real need that affected millions of Americans, they chose to stonewall in order to then turn around and blame the Democrats for not including them in the debate. That’s the behavior of a manipulative teenager, not an entire political party.

Then there came the whole Benghazi insanity. I’ve read more news articles, opinions, Congressional testimony, and scholarly studies about this incident than I can count, and it all leads me to one conclusion: this was a GIANT red herring. Was it a tragedy that four brave Americans died that night? Absolutely. Was it at least partially our government’s fault? Absolutely. But one thing is VERY clear. It wasn’t Hilary’s fault, or Obama’s fault, or the Democrat’s fault (or at least only a wee bit). It was primarily the GOP’s fault.

“After Republicans took over the House in January 2011 — before the Benghazi attack — they proposed deep cuts for U.S. embassy operations and State Department programs across the board, including for diplomatic and embassy facility security.  The House Republican Appropriations Committee cut $1 billion from the embassy security budget proposed by the Obama Administration in the two years prior to the Benghazi attack.”

https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/news-backgrounder-even-after-benghazi-attack-house-leaders-continued-to-block-embassy-security-funds

Where the Democrats did fail was due to bureaucratic mishandling of the Libyan diplomatic situation by the State Department, but that pales in comparison to the impact of the GOP funding cuts. Bottom line for me as a lifelong Republican was a sickening feeling of disgust with the never ending attempts to smear Clinton for their own callous mistake. But smear they did, quite effectively, aided by the media and especially Faux News.

Then came the rise of the Tea Party and the whole birther / Muslim nonsense continually bandied about by Faux News, many within the GOP, and, most especially, Donald Trump. Few things have ever smacked so of racism and flat out slander. I started to seriously question my political allegiance, but I wasn’t ready to abandon ship just yet.

But the final straw for me came with the ascendancy and nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP Presidential candidate. Any party that could embrace a man so bereft of a single redeeming quality could no longer count me as a member.

I said then and still maintain that there has never been a more unqualified person for the office of POTUS. His presidency is the diametric opposite of what a conservative presidency should look like. He has…

  1. trampled our Constitution
  2. lied constantly
  3. alienated our allies
  4. embraced dictators
  5. called Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people”
  6. separated families and caged children
  7. massively ballooned our debt to provide a windfall tax cut that primarily benefits the richest of the rich
  8. engaged in disastrous trade wars that have hurt our economy, disgraced our standing in the world, and practically annihilated small farms
  9. denied the science of Global Climate Change
  10. practically abandoned the American citizens of Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane
  11. violated the emoluments clause over and over
  12. withdrawn from the Paris Accords
  13. withdrawn the US from the Iran Nuclear agreement
  14. continually called our media the enemy of the people (a common ploy of dictators)
  15. betrayed our allies in Syria
  16. abetted the torture and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi
  17. encouraged violence against protesters (at his rallies)
  18. perverted our Federal agencies to the point of nearly destroying accountability
  19. Attempted to blackmail a foreign power into smearing a political opponent by withholding money allocated by Congress for their defense
  20. delayed responding to a pandemic resulting in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths
  21. suggested injecting disinfectant or UV light
  22. hyped an unproven treatment against the recommendation of his own Medical advisors
  23. orchestrated a horrific authoritarian response to nationwide protests that looks like something straight out of a despot’s handbook

The list goes on and on. And, as if all this weren’t bad enough, he has been enabled by a GOP Senate that refuses to hold him even slightly accountable while blithely rubber stamping manifestly unqualified Federal judges.

In short: our country’s democracy hangs in the balance. The damage done to date will take decades to repair. Worse, I sincerely believe that we will truly become a democracy only in name if we allow him to retain the presidency in November.

I know there are many Americans that are convinced that Trump is the greatest president this nation has ever seen and proclaim him as a veritable gift from God, but I cannot stress enough that if Donald Trump was sent by God, it’s only because He didn’t feel like locusts were enough of a punishment.

So, yeah, I left the GOP. But the real truth is, the GOP left me.

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Birthday Dirge

In the fall of 1983, I made the fateful decision to join the Century Singers choral group of Texas A&M University. It was during the interview, conducted by four current members, that I first was smitten by the gorgeous brown eyes of my future wife, Susan. But this post isn’t about falling in love. It’s about celebrating a birthday in the midst of a global pandemic.

Shortly after joining the Century Singers, our director had us sing Happy Birthday to all the members celebrating a birthday in September. But the Century Singers didn’t sing the traditional HBTY, HBTY ditty so familiar to Americans. No, instead, all of us newbies were taught a unique and darkly whimsical “Birthday Dirge”, created for and beloved by that special group of singers. As the name implies, it is not a sunny tune of joy, but rather sung like a dirge. It features charmingly ironic lyrics that sound like they were written by the fictional Winnie the Pooh character, Eeyore.

I’m writing this post today, during the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic, because today is my birthday, and for the first time in my life, the “Birthday Dirge” seems particularly appropriate. Here are the lyrics:

Happy birthday.
Oh, happy birthday.
People dying everywhere,
All the world in deep despair,
But it’s your birthday,
So happy birthday.

As you can see, the dark irony of the lyrics is unusually fitting at present. Have a listen here (pardon my middling voice) to get the full effect so that you can sing it to your loved ones attempting to celebrate their birthday in a time of COVID-19.

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Money Really Isn’t Everything

In Matthew 22:21, Yeshua is quoted as saying “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto (the) GOD the things that are GOD’s” (KJV). This verse has been cited widely to support the notion of the separation of church and state, which I believe is a valid view, but there are other nuances that are often lost.

Part of that nuance is derived from the preceding verse: “Shew me the tribute money” (KJV) or “Display the currency of taxation” (Literal Alt). According to christswords.com, the Greek word translated as “money” derives “…from a word that means “anything sanctioned by current custom or usage”, “institution”, “coin”, “money,” and “full legal measure.” The closest English equivalent is “currency.” It then points out that “The meaning of “money” is the same as “custom” and “full legal measures.” Christ is conflating the use of money with the law and custom.” So, Christ set up the “money verse” by using a turn of phrase to link the physical money to both the law (government) and customs (culture).

In verse 21, we immediately bump into another nuance having to do with the meaning of the Greek word translated as Caesar. You wouldn’t think that could be very ambiguous, but context adds a shade of meaning not immediately obvious to modern readers but which would have jumped out immediately to those listening to Christ within the context of Roman Judea. That’s because the Roman coin in question would have had two important features which give the word Caesar a double meaning. The first feature is the image of Tiberius, the emperor at the time. This was the literal image of the Roman government, since Tiberius was the physical embodiment of the government, for all intents and purposes. The second feature would be the Latin inscription, most likely “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”, aka, the son of the Roman god Augustus. So, we have the son of the GOD referring to a coin minted in honor of the Roman son of a god.

So, Christ employed a double entendre by using the word Caesar, which meant both the government and the son of the Roman god in order to bring home the point that those that would trade in the coin of the government must repay to that worldly “god” out of the value provided by that “god”/government and likewise must repay to the Kingdom of the GOD out of the value provided by that GOD.

So why does this matter? It all has to do with authority and how several Biblical verses are interpreted. Specifically, given recent events, I want to focus on Romans 13:1-2:

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (NIV)

What does Matthew 22:21 tell us about these verses from Romans?

First, Christ’s words make a crucial contextual connection between the man, Caesar, and the government. When Paul, a Roman citizen, refers to “the governing authorities”, it is clear to his audience in first century Rome exactly who he was referring to: Tiberius. Granted, this also included all Roman officials, but in that world, their authority derived directly from Caesar. And, in the world view of Paul, Caesar’s authority derived directly from the GOD. This view of government authority prevails even to this day in many monarchies.

So, Paul is making this statement with the clear view that Caesar was God’s anointed, even if Tiberius would have been insulted by this idea. So, in that context, it’s clear that Paul is saying that the man, Caesar, that makes the rules is the one responsible to the GOD for the decisions made in ruling. This is important. Since Caesar’s word was law, he also was held responsible for the implications of that law in the eyes of the GOD.

Second, it brings home the importance of the fact that we don’t live in the Roman Empire. While I would hope this isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this, it is an extremely important point, and here’s why: we don’t have a man anointed as our ruler. Our laws do not derive their authority based upon the will of a single man. They derive their authority based upon the will of us, the people, within the constraints of our constitution. So, in the current context, Romans 13:1-2 would need to be rewritten as something like:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authority of the laws of the land as enacted by duly elected officials representing the majority will of our citizens, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God through the power vested in the citizens of our country. Consequently, whoever rebels (in an unlawful manner) against the authority is rebelling against what God, through the will of the people, has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.

This wording is extremely important since in Rome, Caesar was the anointed authority, but in a representative democratic republic, we have no “god” through which the authority of the GOD is channeled. Instead, we have the constitution and our representative government that exists, not to rule the citizenry, but rather to serve it. The President is not a monarch. His word is not law. Neither does the congress rule. The only voice of the law is OUR VOICE. We are the anointed.

Consequently, just as Caesar was held responsible in the eye of the GOD for his decisions, so too are we held responsible for the decisions made by our government which are reflected in the actions and integrity of our elected officials. If our government promotes justice and equity and defends human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, get the credit, but if our government promotes injustice and inequity or violates human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, will be held accountable.

That is why it is so important for all of us, the anointed in this country, to hold our public servants responsible for ensuring that justice and equity are expressed in our laws and policies in a way that promote human rights and dignity. If we fail in this responsibility, we, the anointed, will pay the price.

Even if you don’t believe in the GOD, or any deity, this still holds true. If we fail to regulate those that represent our will in a way that promotes that which is good and fair and just, then we are condemning ourselves to suffering the consequences of allowing our government to become a vehicle of oppression and suffering.

Abuse invites further abuse. Injustice leads to further injustice. Eventually, a society that does not correct its course and reign in a government employing soulless persecution and abuse, will collapse into either totalitarianism or anarchy. In either case, a democratic republic that allows this to happen will fail.

Tying in another major theme of scripture, hospitality to foreigners (immigrants), magnifies the impact of the need to ensure our government is treating people, both citizens and non, humanely and justly. Right now, that isn’t happening on our border with Mexico. Right now, we the anointed, bear the consequence of inhumane actions acted out against immigrants seeking asylum. We will have to answer for our actions before the GOD, because we are the voice of the government.

I have heard many defenders of the zero tolerance policy change say things like “But these people were breaking the law, so they should be prosecuted.” Let’s examine that claim, shall we?

Facts:

  1. What is the definition of an asylum seeker? Answer: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/asylum-seeker/
  2. What are the criteria used to determine the eligibility of an asylum seeker to be accepted by the United States as a refugee? Answer: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum
  3. Up until recently, victims of domestic or gang violence were included, but a new policy recently announced by A.G. Sessions rescinded their inclusion as official reasons for seeking sanctuary.
  4. What law is the subject of the new zero tolerance policy? Answer: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/crime-enter-illegally.html, but the most cogent part is summed up as such, “For the first improper entry offense, the person can be fined (as a criminal or civil penalty), or imprisoned for up to six months, or both. This is considered a misdemeanor under federal law.”
  5. What changed with the introduction of the new policy? Answer: Under the previous policy, first offenders of this law who voluntarily turned themselves in to border patrol claiming to petition for asylum were routinely subjected to civil proceedings, part of which was intended to attempt to evaluate the validity of the asylum request. This was especially true if the asylum seeking adult was accompanied by a minor. The change in policy resulted in 100% of these cases being processed under criminal law which triggered the required separation of children from adults who were jailed awaiting court proceedings.

“So, what is the big deal?”, I’ve heard defenders of this policy ask. “After all, aren’t children routinely separated from parents who get arrested for breaking the law?”

Good questions. Let’s examine the premise behind them. Yes, many parents, regardless of citizen status, have had custody of their children rescinded due to incarceration as a result of breaking the law. But, let’s be a bit more specific.

In general, the rule in our country (and most of the world) has been to only separate children from parents in extreme circumstances since it is a well established fact that doing so can do permanent psychological and emotional damage to children not to mention the extreme turmoil caused to the parent. One man has already committed suicide due to this policy separating him from his child.

Notice the clause in the law shown above that says “as a criminal or civil penalty“. The whole reason that is included in the law is to provide for enforcement discretion. The same sort of discretionary clauses are often included in laws, especially misdemeanors, as a means of avoiding criminal prosecution of everything from jay walking to speeding to trespassing.

It is very rare indeed for anyone to be subjected to criminal prosecution for a first misdemeanor offense and usually only occurs if there is some aggravating factor, such as driving 90 mph in a 20 mph active school zone.

So, the change in policy was tantamount to announcing a zero tolerance policy on speeding, without regard to aggravating factors, where every driver pulled over would be immediately arrested, carted off to jail, car impounded, and children, if present, processed by CPS since they can’t be booked into jail with the parent. I think it is safe to say that pretty much every citizen would be up in arms if that policy were to be announced.

So, attempting to defend the zero tolerance policy by pretending that the only alternative our government had in enforcing the law was to press criminal charges is simple disingenuous. This is especially true when you consider that the policy change was announced and enforced suddenly, with no grace period to allow for the word to spread amongst potential asylum seekers. In the past, such a drastic change in policy would have included a grace period out of humanitarian concerns.

Instead, springing this policy suddenly with no grace period appears to have been done with the intent of ensuring that unwitting asylum seekers illegally crossing accompanied by children would be arrested, resulting in separation from their children. Statements from the president himself indicate that this was done both as a “deterrent” and in an effort to gain political leverage on Democrats in an attempt to force them to fund the president’s border wall.

There is no reasonable way to justify enacting a policy with the express intent of causing innocent children to suffer in order to gain political leverage.

Another claim I have heard out of defenders of this policy is that these children will only be separated from their parents for a couple of days at most. While that may be some sort of ideal goal, it is not the reality on the ground. An article from vox, quotes Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families as telling reporters “that while his department is “under a legal obligation” to place children “expeditiously” with a sponsor, “we actually don’t have a time limit in terms of days” that children are allowed to stay in HHS care.” There are multiple reports of parents being deported without their children and of children disappearing into the system.

This is completely unacceptable. We, the anointed, will be held accountable. This is our government instituted to reflect our will.

So, what’s with the title of this post, “Money Really Isn’t Everything”?

I find it amusing that Yeshua used a Roman coin to make a point about value which shows that money, the coin, is not the only measure of value. There is another “coin” of value, Love, which is provided by the GOD and which requires us to return like value to the GOD by lavishing that Love on others. Money truly is not everything. The more important coin is Love. And, since we are the anointed, that love must also be reflected in our laws.

Finally, I leave you with one last Biblical passage that brings home what is really at stake here. From the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

We are the anointed. We are responsible.

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Love Your Enemies – Yes, Even Nazis

In light of recent events, with tiki torch waving hate groups marching the streets of Charlottesville chanting racist slogans, clashing with counter-protesters, and the tragic death of a young lady in the prime of life, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to hate the haters. It’s the “natural” response. It feels good to meet hate with hate. It feels right to give them a taste of their own medicine. And it is absolutely the exact opposite of helpful.

In Matthew 5, Yeshua is quoted as saying:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This may be the most difficult commandment found in the entire Bible… and the single most powerful. When you hate a hater, you simply justify their hatred. Your hatred reinforces their personal world view, that hate is justified, that it is powerful, and that even the “good” people hate. This simply fans the flames of their hatred.

The late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr put it this way: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It is not at all easy to hate the sin and not the sinner, but that is exactly what we must learn to do. We must learn to love the hater even as we oppose the hate. It is the only way to “be perfect”. So, go forth, and spread love. Be perfect.

Shalom.

*** Copyright 2017 (c) by Joel R. Hall ***

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Wedding Toast

A toast to Jeremy my son,
And to Eren, his beloved one,
Who met in school at Centenary
And now, at last, have come to marry.
So now, my son, I offer this,
A prayer for lifelong wedded bliss.
May you be wise and full of grace,
And ever find in her fair face,
A source of joy and love so true
That only she can be for you.
And to Eren, now let me say
How glad I am to see this day,
When my dear son, a source of pride,
Tomorrow takes you as his bride.
None could bestow greater joy
Than you have brought my darling boy.
So now allow me to make clear
How grateful I am to you dear
For how you’ve blessed, not just my son,
But all my family, everyone.
So when at last you say “I do”
Just know that I will then call you
My daughter, and let me be clear,
We couldn’t love you more, my dear.

Welcome to the family.
May God bless this union.
May the Lord bless this house.
Cheers!

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 The Fruit of Distrust

We live in a time of turmoil, violence, and mayhem. Like other such times in the history of the world, there is one central truth that dictates the increase in chaos.

We see it everywhere. Suspicion of “the other”. A pervasive pessimism that colors every thought and prevents even the possibility of building understanding. It is like a fever that has swept this world and is carrying everyone inexorably toward a cataclysmic, chaotic shattering of all that is good or wise or beautiful about this world. This fever is driving us all apart and locking peoples into paths of confrontation without opportunity for even hoping for common ground. This fever urges us to destroy “the other” like a spiritual version of rabies.

This fever has a name: distrust.

It is the natural born child of fear, that all destroying emotion second only to love in power. But even though love is stronger than fear, that does not mean that fear is powerless to quench love for a season, employing distrust to turn loving hearts into furnaces of hate.

But this is not a new story. It has been around since time began. In the words of the Teacher, son of David: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to love and a time to hate.”

No, this is not new. Nothing under the Sun is new.

But, it is sad. This fever called distrust is always a sad fever, burning up the hearts and minds of everyone afflicted. But how do I know this fever’s name? How do I pronounce my diagnosis with such certainty?

Like any disease, this particular fever manifests one very distinctive symptom that is a certain tell. The distrust fever may start subtly, with people agreeing to disagree over matters of opinion, but over time, the sure fire symptom is that civility grows in shorter and shorter supply while the rhetoric grows increasingly hostile and personal. Finally, it reaches an unmistakable crescendo when facts themselves can no longer be agreed upon.

Welcome to full on, no holds barred, Annie grab your gun, chip on the shoulder, smash mouth hostility. This is distrust fever in full force. I’m talking 106 degree Fahrenheit, break the thermometer, brow scorching, brain frying FEVER.

And it does indeed make me sad. So many casualties. So little love.So little TRUST.

As I look at this sad world, caught up in this fever, one of the saddest symptoms I see in my own nation is the use of a phrase I keep seeing repeated over and over: “liberal mainstream media”. The very fact that the phrase is a literal oxymoron never even seems to occur to those uttering it. This is a fiction that has been put forth by those with a vested interest in sowing doubt and division in our society.

I can say this with absolutely no sense of superiority or condescension since for quite a while, I was one of the people repeating this phrase. And it wasn’t my own vastly superior intellect that rescued me from the clutches of the fever either. It was the very humbling experience of coming face to face with consequences wrought when good people, people I came to love, suffered because enough other good people chose to believe this phrase and, in doing so, abandoned balance, replete with all its messiness and occasional uncertainty, in favor of the friendly reassurance of rightness offered up like a big friendly hug out on the fringes of the wild frontiers of “news”.

These “guardians of the conservative truth” (yes, I know there are liberal sites also but they aren’t mainstream either) – where everyone marches to the same music and knows the secret handshake of the truly informed – make no bones about their agenda. Isn’t that refreshing. And by telling you that, they can then turn right around and tell you with a knowing wink, that ALL news organizations really have an agenda but only the honest ones admit it. Thus it follows, that since the mainstream media doesn’t admit their agenda and since their “balanced” news doesn’t always embrace the same “facts” as the honest, agenda driven conservative media, then they must, by default be… gasp!… “LIBERAL!” Oh, the shame. The scandal! The horror!!!

Really?

I won’t claim that there is no bias whatsoever in mainstream journalism (that would be absurd!) but I will most certainly maintain that the bias that does exist there falls both ways for the simple reason that reporters are human and humans are biased and do not all share the same inclinations. Mainstream journalist, while research has shown them to be slightly more to the left of center than the average citizen, are still far from being all a bunch of leftist radicals. Further, despite their personal biases, the mainstream media in this country has maintained a reputation for fairness rivaled by very few the world over. They are still the best source for getting relatively fair and balanced coverage of national news… if only anyone will listen

And I personally have less excuse for falling for the “liberal mainstream media” myth than most as having been, in a former life, both a student of journalism and, briefly, a practitioner. I witnessed up close and personal the ethos of the professionals around me. How could I forget how truly dedicated the journalists I knew were to the concept of balance? How could I fall prey to claims that they were somehow the enemy of truth?

When I did finally come to my senses, I realized that my own arrogance led me down that path. I was, quite plainly, abashed at my folly. I have always claimed to be a truth seeker and here I was, choosing to NOT listen to dissenting voices. How had I let this happen?

The irony of the answer is that while I was ranting incessantly  about the bias of the “liberal mainstream media,” I was the very one knowingly and purposefully seeking out only news tailored to my OWN biases. Truth seeker? I think not. and so I changed. I resolved to doggedly dig into stories and really try to hear all sides (there are rarely only two), because failure to do so is exactly why fake news can proliferate. Don’t like the facts, simply go shop for a site that will give you “alternative facts”.

So how do we treat the fever?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer but one thing I know with certainty. We must start by choosing, as citizens, to stop actively distrusting the institutions that helped shape us into one of the greatest nations that has ever existed, otherwise we will destroy this country and everything it stands for. We must stand as a house united and unity requires trust and respect. Failure to do so will drive us further into partisan division made more rigid by a refusal to earnestly seek to understand other points of view.

George Washington famously warned of the danger of love for party overriding love of country. I am sick at heart to be a witness to the sagacity of his insight. I love America the beautiful, land of the free and home of the brave. I certainly hope she can survive this threat to her very soul. And I’m not talking about Trump here. I’m talking about the real problem, that rampant fever, that destroyer of nations: Distrust.

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An Open Letter to Evangelical Republicans

I have been contemplating writing an “open letter” detailing my feelings of dismay at the embrace given to Trump by the evangelical right. I’ve prayed about it and mulled it over at length, but the opportunity to write my thoughts down just hasn’t materialized. And then, I saw this post written by another blogger that perfectly expresses everything I was planning on writing. I share this man’s heart. I, too, feel compelled by the Christ I know and love to reject practically every single aspect of Trump, and I, too, am deeply disappointed in all who claim Christ as Lord but yet embrace a man so at odds with every single thing Christ modeled and calls us to be. Please read this letter and listen with your heart. My thanks to the author.

pontifications. and stuff.

I want to preface this letter with two caveats. The first is that I hope I’m wrong about what I see coming down the pike. The second is that if I’m right, I pray I will have the courage to live the convictions that I write, because God knows I am a person full of fear.

Dear Evangelical Republicans,

I grew up one of you. I was raised to think conservatively–to support the troops, to protest gay marriage, to fight against the great injustice of higher taxes for the wealthy. But as I’ve pursued a theological education over the last seven years, we’ve grown apart. Much that I once held as self-evident truth from the very hand of God, I now disagree with–and the convictions that do we still share, I hold from a much more nuanced perspective. I’ve learned to live with the disconnect from my youth, and I…

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Grandad’s “Dirty” Joke

My Grandad Reagan Otts was one of the most gentle, kind, laid back, wonderful human beings God ever created. Rarely did I ever witness him lose his temper and even more rarely did I ever hear him curse. (The only time I ever did was during a harrowing encounter with a particularly rude motorist while driving in Dallas traffic.) But rarest of all was even the hint of an off color joke coming from him.

While on a recent trip to Colorado with some family members, I was reminded of the closest thing to a dirty joke that Grandad ever told. Upon hearing it retold by my brother, I laughed anew as I realized how truly clever a man he was. And so, without further adieu, allow me to share with you my Grandad’s “dirty” joke.

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A newcomer to Alaska decided to capture a polar bear. He devised a plan to build a trap, hired a guide to take him to an ice sheet frequented by trophy sized bears, and then sent him away with instructions to return in one week.

When the guide returned, he was dismayed to see that his client had somehow excavated a deep pit in the ice over which he had assembled a tripod of long poles that held suspended directly over the center of the pit a large chunk of fresh meat. Surrounding the pit, set back about 10 feet from the edge was what looked like a low, circular igloo with multiple doors facing inward toward the pit. He had never seen anything like it and asked his client, “How in the world do you plan on trapping a polar bear with that?”

The client replied, “Easy. Ya see this little igloo I built around the pit?”

The guide nodded.

The client continued, “Well, I’m going to hide in that igloo until a polar bear comes along to try to get that meat over the pit, and while the bear is focused on reaching that meat, I’m going to circle around behind, pop out the nearest door, and kick him right in the ice hole.”

**********************

I know it’s about as corny as corny can be, but it made me laugh just because of who it was that told it. As an added bonus, it provided my brother and I with an inside joke: “Don’t be an ice hole.”

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Belle of the Ball

I graduated from Texas A&M University. Yes, I’m an Aggie. But not just any Aggie. I grew up in College Station as the son of a Junction Boy. I used to play with the son of Earl Rudder, the college president and a legend in Aggieland. You can’t get much more Aggie than that. As such, I am well steeped in Aggie lore. One such example has to do with a tradition that, as rare as such a thing is, died out: coeds being bussed in from TWU to attend grand balls thrown in their honor.

I ran across an article about this the other day and it reminded me of a funny story my mother used to tell. The story occurred in the mid-80s while she was working for the university. Allow me to share it here to the best of my recall.

While on her way to lunch atop Rudder Tower, she found herself awaiting the elevator with an elderly woman accompanied by a middle aged lady. From the conversation my mother overheard while they were waiting, it became apparent that they were the mother and grandmother of a coed visiting from out of town and that both of them were married to Aggies themselves.

Before the elevator arrived, the three of them were joined by a very large, black cadet. The elderly woman appeared to take great interest in the new arrival, looking him over from head to toe.

After noticing his senior boots, she turned to him and said, “Oh… You must be a senior in the corp, young man.”

“Yes, maam.”, he replied politely.

After a brief, somewhat awkward pause, she spoke again. “My husband was in the corp back in the 30’s.”

The cadet smiled and said, “Is that so?”

“Yes,” she continued. “But there weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The cadet looked a bit shocked and uncomfortable as the daughter turned to her mother with a look of complete mortification and ground out “Mother!” from between clenched teeth. She turned to the cadet in full blush and said, “I am SO sorry.”

In true gallant fashion, the cadet recovered his composure and said, “It’s quite alright ma’am. Your mother is right. There probably weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The awkward silence that followed was mercifully ended by the arrival of the elevator. Conversation ceased while the party boarded. The only floor selected was the top floor, the site of the restaurant. Just as the doors were closing, the elderly woman, whom had obviously been lost in thought reminiscing about the Aggieland of her youth, spoke up again, turning to the cadet, perhaps hoping to show she had meant no harm in her previous statement.

“I hardly recognize the campus nowadays. I met my husband while he was a student here. They would bus us in from TWU, where I was a student. Oh, I used to love to visit. All those handsome young cadets.”

She paused while the cadet nodded and smiled. All would have been well had she simply stopped there. But, unfortunately for her horrified daughter, she asked, in a voice aquiver with the excitement of her past fond memories, “Tell me, do you boys still have big balls here like they used to?”

The only saving grace was that the elevator had arrived and the doors opened right as this question was posed. Without hesitation, the daughter grabbed her mother by the arm and broke for the door, only uttering a hasty “Oh my god. I am so, SO sorry.”

My mother knew the real meaning of the question, but we will never know what that poor cadet was thinking.

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Who Do You Love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

The most important question in all of creation is, “Who do you love?”

Yeshua made it abundantly clear: “God is Love”, “Love each other”, “Love your enemies”. He meant it. He really meant it. So much so, that he made it a command: “This is my command: Love each other.” So much so, that he made it the watermark of following him: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love…” So much so, that, when asked which command was the greatest, he said something that, to the ears of his contemporaries, sounded outrageous:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And he didn’t leave any room for interpretation about who his followers were to love: EVERYONE. Not just your family. Not just your friends. Not just your countrymen. Not just your race. Not just your religion. EVERYONE. Even, and perhaps especially, your enemies.

So here is the question above all questions. Who do you love?

If you say you love the Eternal, but do not love his children, then you not only do not love the Eternal, but truly do not even know him. He IS love. As such, He loves everyone. He loves all his children. He loves Mother Teresa… and he also loves Adolf Hitler. He loves George Washington… and he also loves Josef Stalin. He loves Moishe… and he also loves Osama bin Laden. He even loves George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. Heck, he even loves Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump.

Do you love illegal immigrants? Do you love Muslims? Jews? Blacks? Hippies? Red necks? Rich? Poor? Queen Elizabeth? Welfare queens? Communists? Kim Jong-un? Charles Manson? Little Honey Boo-boo? Josh Dugger? Bill Cosby? Caitlyn Jenner? Gays? Drug dealers? Rapists? Human traffickers? Slave owners? Thieves? Murderers? Polygamists? The homeless? Members of ISIS? Pedophiles? Prostitutes? Conservatives? Liberals?

WHO do you LOVE?

It is the only question that matters. When I was stripped of my physical self and stood naked within the ocean of light that is our lord, that was the only thing that mattered. And in that state of absolute nakedness – spiritual nakedness – it was impossible to lie. My life was the answer; the answer was my true name, and that name was laid bare before all.

In that place, where communication is pure and absolute, where there is not even the possibility of ambiguity, where your name, your true name, the very essence of your being, is open for all to see, hear, smell, taste, touch… experience… in that place, who you love is who you are. That identity is the identity you forge every moment of your physical life. You quite literally write your own essential, eternal name by who, during this life, you choose to love… and who you choose to judge.

Judge? Shouldn’t that read “hate” or “choose not to love”? No, judge is correct. True love, agape love, can only come from the Eternal as a result of loving him. The very act of opening ourselves completely to him in love is the very thing that enables his love to flow through us. But, in order to love him, I must know and trust him as sovereign, as the Creator, and as the only one able to justly judge. For me to choose to believe that I have the right to judge, I have to think myself equal with God, but, the moment I make that choice, I terminate my love for him. If I love the Eternal, I can only ever love his children without judgement. To presume, even for an instant, to judge is to forget who is God and who is not. (Hint: it’s not me.)

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that in order to love others I have to agree with their choices. Not at all. I simply have to choose to love them in spite of their choices, trusting the Eternal to deal with them justly just as he deals with me justly; just as he loves me in spite of my choices. Neither is it true that loving others without judgement requires accepting their actions without opposition. In many cases, loving requires opposition. A loving response to Hitler was to prevent him from killing the innocent.

Love is not simple, but it is worthwhile. It is the most worthwhile thing there is. It defines you. It refines you. It determines your name.

And so, I ask you again, hoping and praying with all my soul that you think long and hard about the answer: who do you love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

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A Dog Just Peed in my Beer

Copyright 2014 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

This song is dedicated to the young lady that inspired it. Thanks Melissa. Here is my acapella  recording so you can get some idea of the country tune that goes with the lyrics. Enjoy!

Well, I run off the road and got stuck in the ditch
When I almost hit a deer.
So I grabbed my last three Lone Stars
And I sat in the shade on my rear
I drank the first two and then opened the last,
But when I sat it down to wipe a tear,
An old cur dog that was nosin’ around,
Hiked his leg and just peed in my beer!

— Chorus —
A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by a tree,
Gettin’ drunk as could be
When a dog come and peed in my beer!

You see today’s the anniversary,
I mark it ever’ year,
It’s the day she ripped my heart to shreds
And left me cryin’ here.
So I was headin’ to the store in my pickup truck
To pick up a case of cheer.
But instead I’m stuck on the side of the road and
A dog just peed in my beer!

[Chorus]

Now I’ve lived through many hard times
And by now the truth seems clear
When the going gets rough and I aughta get tough
And put it in another gear,
Instead of risin’ to the challenge
I run away in fear.
And now to top the whole thing off,
A dog just peed in my beer!

[Chorus]

Now I’m facing a dilemma,
And my mind ain’t clear, you see.
What with grievin’ that witch and gettin’ stuck in the ditch
I’m as desperate as can be.
So now I’m starin’ at my last Lone Star,
And a-puzzlin’ mightily,
Do I pour it out or just guzzle it quick
And hope I can’t taste that pee!?!

A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Gak!
Whooooo doggy!

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The Evidence of Things Unseen

Those of you that have been following this blog for any length of time are probably aware of the two concurrent and interrelated themes of my near death experience and my God dreams. I cannot separate the one from the other because the things revealed to me while out of my body were reinforced by the first of my God dreams, which occurred immediately upon my return to my body, and further clarified by subsequent dreams, the most important of which concerned the resolution of a deep wound from my childhood.

Over the past 36 years, the Creator has taken me on a journey I never could have predicted and a great deal of the flow of that journey has been accomplished through the interplay between my NDE and the ongoing occurrence of these special dreams. The frustration for me, however, is that, while I have profited greatly from these experiences and feel humbled and blessed to have had them, I find that there is no way to share them with others in a way that rises above, at best, the level of odd, perhaps interesting, rantings of a man that believes he has experienced things which cannot be shared in a way to which anyone else can readily relate. It’s maddening. Sometimes it makes me want to scream.

But I have come to accept that it is only reasonable for others to be skeptical. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This has led me to constantly seek out the stories of others that claim to have also experienced an NDE, with the result being that I find myself more and more encountering depictions of heavenly visits that resonate with me in ways too harmonic to be explained away as mere chance. This is especially true when I read the accounts of those children, like Colton Burpo in “Heaven is for Real“, who were too young when they visited heaven for the descriptions of their experience to be reasonably explained as “hallucinatory fulfillment of religiously fueled  expectations” since such expectations would only reasonably exist in persons old enough to have developed a personal belief system rich enough to fuel such a possible explanation.

Some of the details that struck me most vividly in Colton’s descriptions of his experience in heaven are the vivid colors of the rainbow, the intense (like REALLY intense) love of Yeshua for His children, the awareness of events in “the real world” that he could not possibly have known while unconscious, and the knowledge of things, past, present, and future, that have no reasonable “natural” explanation. These things make my heart resonate like a bell.

While our individual experiences of heaven were not identical (as no two appear to be), there are certain themes and details that recur over and over again. For instance, Akiane Kramarik, who claims to have started visiting heaven in her dreams at the tender age of 4, describes the “hundreds of millions of more colors we don’t know yet” which is identical to my own experience. Akiane was raised by atheists and had NO religious background from which to draw any expectation of God or heaven. Her experience falls more under the God dream category than the NDE, but the thematic resonance is unmistakable.

I know there are many that simply cannot accept as evidence the anecdotal stories of those that claim to have visited heaven (or hell) as anything other than hearsay, fanciful wish fulfillment, or fabrications, but if you look at the facts of each case and start examining the circumstantial evidence, the case for a spiritual realm or dimension grows stronger and stronger. Granted, it cannot ever be proven to the standard required by scientific inquiry, but that does not mean it can be readily dismissed either. And for those of us that have experienced these things first hand, I can assure you that it would require a great effort to ever cease to believe in the reality behind the experience. I could just as easily dismiss as real the entire experience of the reality we all seem to share. I guess seeing really is believing.

Shalom, my friends. Try not to be too enamored of your own assumptions.

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What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us

The most accurate description of the state of the religion called Christianity, which spans a great range of sects, is that the modern institutions, or at least most of them, that identify themselves as Christian could more accurately be referred to as Constantinians, since it was Constantine that presided over the formation of the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church.

During the canonization process of the books of the Catholic Bible, many texts viewed as sacred by a large portion of the early Christian Church were rejected and criminalized. The official creed was formulated to define the “accepted doctrine” of the official Church and allow enforcement by means of Roman soldiers, enlisted to confiscate and burn any writing deemed heretical. Heretics were persecute, imprisoned, and killed in an effort to establish a single religion and bring peace to the empire.

All of this occurred under the direction of Constantine, who at the time, was the high priest of the temple of Apollo. He himself refused to be baptized until he lay on his deathbed. The point is, the modern institution is not a pure descendant of the movement known as “The Way” that existed in the first couple of centuries following the ministry of Yeshua. I’m not saying Christians should abandon their belief in Christ – after all, I am a believer – but I am saying that we should be very careful about assuming that all that glitters in the institutional church is gold.

As many of you know, I had a near death experience when I was 18 that involved a direct encounter with Him. While my belief preexisted this encounter, the results of this experience erased any doubts in my heart of His existence, and firmly established the authenticity of His nature as a loving Creator. He is all of that and more.

But the biggest take away from that experience was the overwhelming impression that we are all loved with a love so deep, so profound, that it is practically indescribable using human language. I came back realizing that our very existence is a manifestation of that love, and that we, as humans, have way overcomplicated the whole sin thing. I firmly believe that God’s definition of sin is very different from the common human understanding of that word. (See The Robot Parable for my best shot at elucidating my understanding of the concept I encountered in His being.)

One of my friends recently posted a meme that derided as illogical belief in a God that would create humans with sin, blame them for His act, come to Earth to die to atone for that sin, and then cast in eternal punishment those that reject Him. In this view, God is viewed as an egotist that craves validation from his creation and cruelly punishes those that don’t comply. Indeed, much of the dogma of both the Jewish and Christian (and Muslim) religions support this view. But that is certainly not the nature of the Creator I encountered. I am convinced our understanding of Him is very skewed, which makes perfect sense. We are finite (very finite) creations that struggle to even understand the created universe in which we live. The concept of infinity is only loosely understood by us in the most abstract sense. We simply cannot fully comprehend something so far outside our limited experience.

That is why everything ever written, spoken, or thought by living humans concerning the nature and will of the Creator is, at best, speculation. Even in encountering Him directly, while free of the constraints of my finite, physical body, I could not comprehend Him in anything even approaching totality. To do so would require that I be Him, for He is the only one that can. So our religion suffers from the innate limits of Human frailty. So why allow sin? Did God create us simply so He could bully us? Is He cruel? What gives?

In the Christian Bible, Yeshua is quoted as saying “God is Love”, and that, to me is the essence of the Truth. He is no egotist. He doesn’t need our worship. He loves us and desires the best for us. But He wants a relationship with beings given free will which, unfortunately, means that He must allow us to choose not to seek a relationship. That choosing is, in my best understanding (which is limited, I admit), the key to understanding sin.

The Creator did not create us with cruel intent, but rather with the intent of empowering us to choose, free of obvious, verifiable, provable consequence. If you want an intelligent being to reveal its own true nature, you have to allow it to believe that the only consequence for any and all actions is the result within the immediate context. Good behavior under the threat of punishment reveals nothing about the nature of the acting entity. John Wooden is quoted as saying, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” I truly believe that this sentiment strikes to the heart of the sin question. I firmly believe the Creator wants to know us as we really are and part of that knowledge must encompass what we are capable of doing in the deepest, darkest recesses of our hearts. He is not interested in us putting on a show. He wants to find out how fluently each of us learns to speak the language of love.

That is why He created a universe where chaos is balanced with beauty. Where life and death, joy and suffering are possible. Only in that setting can we show ourselves for what we are. Each individual must choose, in every moment of life, to either be an agent of love, joy, peace, truth, understanding and grace (all of the things demonstrated and embodied in the life of Yeshua) or to walk a darker path of fear, anger, hatred, apathy, greed, and turmoil. We can seek to serve others in love, crush others in a bid to control and exploit, ignore others in a pursuit of selfish indulgence, or justify ourselves by acting out a mime of “righteousness” by following rules and laws.

Those that choose to walk in search of Love (which is God), become more and more in tune with His being. Those that choose other paths move ever farther from Him.

But wait, some will object, that’s not fair. If we are to be judged, shouldn’t it be made incontrovertibly clear what the standard is? Isn’t it cruel to punish poor, frail humans without making the stakes clear? Why doesn’t the Creator, if He exists, simply reveal Himself? Why not step onto the stage of our world and solve all our ills? Isn’t that cruel?

To be honest, none of us can answer that question from where we stand in this universe. When I passed out of this universe into His presence, I realized that many of the answers cannot and will not be revealed until we have moved on, but in His presence, I was overwhelmed with the sense that anything and everything about His nature is founded in Love, Grace, and innate Justice. I came back understanding that there is, deep within us all, an instinct, the still small voice, that, if we choose to seek it out, will give us all the evidence we need.

Yeshua said, “Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” He wasn’t kidding. We have to make a choice to seek. We have to be willing to embrace Love even when it means foregoing opportunities for self indulgence or enrichment. Even when it means fogiving those that hate, who act cruelly, who seem unlovable. We have to come to a place where we see every human as His child – precious, unique, loved, valued – and seek to love even in spite of the inevitable flaws. In fact, we have to choose to love without judgement. The very definition of heaven requires beings that behave in this fashion. The essence of Hell (if it is a place at all) is typified by those that choose judgement, manipulation, anger, addiction, fear, lies, etc. You can’t mix the two things and have paradise.

But does that imply that there really will be a heaven and hell in the end? Some think so. Some do not. Rob Bell, in his book, “Love Wins” argues that God seeks to gather all his creation to Himself (heaven) and will find the means to do so. With eternity to work with, this is always a possibility. I personally do not know the answer… yet. We all will eventually. What I do know is that seeking to embrace love and acceptance is never a wrong thing.

Even if I turn out to be totally full of bologna and am self deceived; even if my whole NDE was simply an epic hallucination brought on by hypoxia; even if in the final analysis there is no God; I can still confidently state that choosing to live as if there is and choosing to embrace Him as the very essence of Love and seek to conform myself to that essence, I will have won a great victory in this life. Because the bottom line is that the path of Love, joy, truth, and grace is a path that generates peace and well being without fail. We are wired to desire these things. Even scientific analysis concurs in this. So, while I firmly believe He exists, I even more firmly believe that seeking Him is the greatest endeavor a human being can undertake.

Shalom to you all.

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Kindle on your Phone? You bet!

In case you didn’t know (and I seem to be running into a lot of folks that don’t), you don’t need to buy a Kindle to read Kindle books. Just download the app on your P.C., MAC, or phone. It’s free and it opens up a world of reading, no matter where you go. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

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Make it Stop

I write a lot about the whole “Science vs Religion” debate. You might say it’s my special passion. It’s the topic of my book, has been the subject of the majority of my public speaking, and has been the topic of many of my blog posts. Part of the reason I am so passionate about it is the memory of how it affected me growing up. I actually became an atheist for a while based upon the doubt engendered in me by this debate.

But here’s the rub. It wasn’t so much that scientific discoveries and theories (which I will heretofore refer to by the word Science) directly dissuaded me from embracing the Bible, and most specifically the creation stories of Genesis. No, the larger factor was the reaction of many Christians in trying to argue against Science. Even as a teen, I could very clearly see that much of the anti-Science arguments were just plain silly, or worse, made God out to look like a great charlatan. (Read my book to understand why.)

I did eventually reject atheism and became a believer for reasons that had little to do with the raging debate. But over the years, I have continued to see several especially egregious examples of ignorance surface time and again on the part of well intended Christians. Please, my brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to ignorance, just make it stop. Ignorance never furthers the cause of Truth.

With this in mind, here are a few questions / claims I see floating around the internet from time to time that I would love to see put to rest.

Q1: If man evolved from monkeys (apes), then why are there still monkeys (apes)?

A1: Where do I start. Just asking this question betrays such a profound lack of understanding about the science of evolution that I am almost at a loss of words in responding. But here is the simple answer: evolutionary change, by definition, occurs when one member of a species experiences a genetic change that distinguishes the offspring of that one member as different from the rest of the original species. The rest of the species doesn’t cease to exist simply because one member brought forth a new species. If the new species always killed off the old species, then there would only be one species left on the entire planet.

Q2: Why does atheistic science… (or could be secular humanist science…)?

A2: Good grief. Generalizations are poisonous in reasoned debate. It is no more true that all scientists are atheists than it is that all Christians are Catholic. Please, please, please, please stop displaying such ignorance.

Q3: If evolution is real, where are all the transitional forms?

A3: Everywhere. Humans are one. Snails are one. Paramecia are one. Every species is, according to evolutionary theory, in the process of evolving, so we are all transitional forms.

Claim1: Evolution (geological dating, carbon dating, etc) is all just a belief system based on opinion. It’s not real science.

Rebuttal 1: Again, this sort of rhetoric simply displays a profound lack of understanding about how science works. While certain aspects of science are indeed up for debate, the above listed topics really aren’t on that list. Evolution (not classic Darwinian) is accepted because it holds up under review. Again, please stop spouting this sort of nonsense. By definition, science is not perfect and will never have all the answers. Science is the pursuit of answers using a skeptical, systematic approach intended to constantly improve our understanding of the physical universe. So, yes, there may well be facets of current scientific theory that will be overturned in time, but the likelihood of that happening to something as well established as carbon dating or the broad concept of evolution are infinitesimally small. When it comes to evolution, there probably will continue to be tweaks to specifics of the theory, but the general basis will almost certainly, and rightly, survive. This is good news, though, since the Bible actually supports the whole notion of an evolutionary process in the speciation of Earth. (It’s in my book.)

These are just a few of my pet peeve questions and claims made by believers that drive me nuts. If you are going to contend in the arena of facts, at least don’t come to the fight unarmed. There is only one Truth. Seek it.

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Science vs Religion? I think not.

I came across a great quote from St. Augustine written over 1500 years ago:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

“If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

– St. Augustine of Hippo, 5th Century AD (considered by some Protestants to be one of the theological fathers of the Reformation)

Even in the 5th century, the science vs religion debate was brewing and old St. Augie got it right: there is only one truth. Any religious belief that seems in opposition to observable and reasonable fact needs to be reexamined. God doesn’t lie and His Truth is visible in His creation, so any interpretation of scripture that seems in conflict with the observable facts of nature is, by definition, suspect. My book on the creation accounts of Genesis addresses this head on.

As St. Augie pointed out so correctly, doggedly clinging to an interpretation of scripture that is glaringly at odds with the observable truth of our universe is not only embarrassing, but is damaging to the cause of Christ in that nonbelievers, once convinced of the folly of even a single part of scripture, will be forever averse to trusting any part of scripture. We cannot accomplish the great commission if we, as believers, bring into ridicule the scriptures that establish the foundation of our faith. THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUTH. Seek that truth with all you heart, soul, and mind, even if it means opposing long held doctrine. Even if it means pissing some people off. The truth is too important to simply go along to please others. Have courage. Seek Truth. As my mother used to say, the Truth shall set you free, but first, it will piss you off.

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March Madness – Book Style

Starting at 1:00 A.M. CDT on the morning of March 27, there will be a limited discount period on the price of my Kindle ebook, Revelations of a Glory Passing: The Genesis of Genesis. This promotion is a two part promotion with the initial 99 cent price lasting only 3 days, after which the price will be $1.99 for the next 3 days. Get ’em while they’re hot!

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The Power of Perspective

http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/700s/nssl0069.jpg
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Whenever I find myself drowning in self pity,
Whenever I feel lost in the darkest night,
Whenever tempests roil within my soul and threaten to tear me asunder,
I cling with all my might to the memory of His light flooding through me,
His thoughts intermingled with my own,
And the profound sense of peace, love, and joy that cradled me so tender
Even while my body lay dead,
And I keep on clinging until that light slowly, but surely,
Calms the tempest,
Illuminates the path forward,
And reminds me all over again
How very tiny are my problems in the face of a universe vast
And a creator that loves me with a love that dwarfs this universe.
Image courtesy of NASA.
Because He is, I am blessed.
Because He is, we are blessed.
Because He is, we are loved.
Because He IS, we ARE.
Image courtesy of NASA.
So remember,
When you can’t see the light,
It’s probably because you have your eyes closed…
…in pain…
…or terror.
In those moments,
Simply cling to the memory of the light.
And if you refuse to let go,
Eventually, the light will overcome all darkness,
Both internal and external…
…And then the darkness will simply cease to exist.
Photo courtesy of NASA.
I love you all, my friends, my family, both of blood and Spirit.
May the Creator, the Eternal One, the great I AM, grant you perspective.
May He fill you with His love.
May He flood you with His light.
May He plant the seeds of shalom within you,
And may it cease to grow there no more, forever.
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Christmas Prayer

Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas to all.
O little town of Bethlehem,
Where came to Earth the Great I Am,
Born as a baby in a cattle stall.

Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas we sing.
O lend us now your Holy Star,
To bring together from afar,
Wise men and women seeking for the King.

Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas I pray.
O fill us with good Christmas cheer.
Enough to last throughout the year.
That every day might be like Christmas day.

Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas, may the Christ child light your way.
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Thanksgiving Thought

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It was also my mother’s favorite. She loved everything about it. She was an only child, so she was close to her cousins. Consequently, she kept a much closer relationship through the years with them than most people do in modern times, which led her to invite them all to our house for Thanksgiving on several occasions. When this happened, we would have 40+ people at our house for the feast. Those were some wonderful memories.

Now that my mom is gone, I think about those wonderful, chaotic, joyous, delicious, football watching, crowded house celebrations that she reveled in all those years ago. Thinking about that makes me mindful of how fragile and fleeting life is. Time flows by so swiftly and carries away all that we love until we, too, are carried away from this world.

I have a very personal understanding of what it means to leave this life. I know from experience what awaits us, and it is glorious beyond description. But I also know how blessed we are to be in this life for the blink in time that is allotted us. I am truly blessed in that I got to intermingle my spirit with His, my thoughts with His, and glimpse His infinite love in a way that few living have been allowed. But that blessing comes with a bit of a burden as well, because infinity, once glimpsed, illuminates the finite in stark contrast. It brings into sharp focus the fact that death is not something you do one time at the end of your life. No, death is a process that begins the moment we come into existence and continues throughout our time here until the finite falters and the infinite is freed from the prison we call a body.

And that is something to be very grateful for indeed. I can think of few greater curses than to be stuck in this dark realm for eternity.

That might surprise you, but it shouldn’t. This is not our home. It is simply the ship of our passage. That’s not to say it isn’t important. It is. Vitally important, for this is the nursery in which we are grown to maturity, the testing ground of our souls. This is the place that teaches us we are not the center and meaning of all: we are eternal, but not THE Eternal. This is a realm of great beauty, but also great pain. This is a place where we attempt to communicate, but are so limited by our inability to intermingle our minds directly, as we were originally designed to do, that real communication is impossible, causing us to muddle along with awkward, ambiguous language. This is a realm where fear and misunderstanding rule, and because they do, it is a realm where true love can be learned. You see, the closest thing we ever come to communication is found in love, because loving requires us to reach beyond our own inner shell. Love requires sacrifice, because two will not always want the same thing, so someone will have to yield or lose the relationship. Hopefully, both are willing, because only then do both learn to love. But in this realm, even at our best in our most loving relationship, we still only “look through a glass dimly”. But that’s a blessing, too. It provides us the blessing of anticipation.

This really is a wonderful life. Thanksgiving really is a wonderful holiday. Learning to be grateful for everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, is a profound gift. It’s a gift that can be really hard to see when you are in the middle of the bad and ugly. It can seem impossible when feeling alone and unloved. But Love will win. Death will bless us all by revealing how very much we have always been loved, by amazing us with how surrounded we have always been with a cloud of loved ones, by astounding us with how significant a thing is life, our life, every life.

My return from the arms of the Eternal back into this mortal coil was not by accident. It was very intentional and was even by my own choice. I am SO glad I chose to come back, and I am SO ready to go back home. The hardest part of being here is knowing – knowing from the depths of my soul – that no matter how hard I try to assure you that home awaits, that God IS, that Love wins, and that each and every one of us is beautiful beyond comprehension – no matter how I write, say, sing, paint, or pantomime these things, the best I can do is to get you to wonder, just a bit, if maybe, by some chance, it might be possible that I am not crazy and these things are REALLY true, It really is like trying to describe the concept of color to someone born blind.

The best I can do is to do my best.

I am grateful for my mom and all the wonderful memories she left me. I am grateful for all those family members she invited to our feast, and for all the ones that now surround me. I am grateful for friends and those that challenge me. I am grateful for the air I breath and the Earth beneath my feet. I am grateful for the awareness that I have much to be grateful for. I’m grateful for the chance to live this adventure as I move ever onward toward home. I am grateful for turkey, sweet potato casserole, and pie. I’m even grateful for football, although the Texans are REALLY challenging me on that one. But most of all, I am grateful for the gift of His Love.

Shalom, my friends.

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Great Post: Here’s Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense

I ran across this article on Huffington Post and felt the need to share it. Regardless of your politics, I hope you will read it wit an open mind and heart. I believe this article may actually contain the key to addressing the poverty problem, if only because it might engender greater understanding and empathy. After all, the first step toward solving social issues is to stop blaming the victims. Note, I’m not trying to encourage “victim mentality”, but rather seek to understand the views of those that feel helpless and hopeless. Understanding the root cause of these views hints at how to effectively address them What we as a society are doing at present isn’t working. Please read and try to put yourself in her place.

Here’s Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense – http://huff.to/1e9KHKX

Shalom.

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St. Arnold’s Punkinator!

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Yum!

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Wildflower Profusion

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My wildflowers have gone, well, wild! Many of these blooms are perched well above 6 feet high. I

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Who Said Texas A&M has no Cheerleaders

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Gig’em!

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My Latest Wildflower Bloom

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Love the Autumn color.

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Autumn Sunset

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As I was leaving my son’s house Tuesday, I snapped this shot of a gorgeous sunset. Enjoy.

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Who Do You Trust

Preface: I have been personally touched by gun violence. My cousin was gunned down on a Dallas freeway in front of his wife and infant child by a shooter after a road rage incident. A classmate / study partner was killed with her own gun during an attempted rape. A former high school classmate was gunned down by a shooter while simply walking down the road near his home in broad daylight. I, myself, almost had my head blown off by a family member due to irresponsible handling of a 12 gauge shotgun. I have been personally affected by guns and gun violence. I have also held a gun for the purpose of self defense at a time when I felt very threatened. I’ve been victimized and saved by guns. I have some insight into the issue of gun ownership and gun control.

I have been following the gun control debate in this country for years with a growing sense of frustration. I’m frustrated that the central issue of the debate is all too frequently ignored. The real issue has nothing to do with the type of weapons, the capacity of clips, or the type of ammunition. No, the real central issue is trust.

More specifically, the question that divides those for and against gun control legislation can be boiled down to one simple question, “How much do you trust government?”

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not exist to protect the sacred right to go Rambo on Bambi with high powered weapons. It exists solely because our founding fathers had a profound distrust of government and shared a conviction that the second amendment was necessary to safeguard the sacred right to freedom and liberty.

Theirs was a distrust borne of experience. To them, the phrase, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” was more than just an “old saw”. It was the practical essence of their experience.

Because of this mistrust, they included the second amendment to ensure that the government, our government, would never be able to disarm the citizens of this country. They knew, without any doubt whatsoever, that governments simply cannot be trusted and that the only means a populace has to resist oppression is the right to possess arms.

The reason for this is simple: the capacity of a government to enforce the law must, by rights, involve the authority to use force, up to and including lethal force, against citizens. In other words, “our way or the highway” is the ultimate law of the land. This is a necessary evil, otherwise, those intent on harming others could and would go unchecked.

However, the flip side of government sanctioned force is that the need to arm the government, left unchecked by an armed populace, is a formula for abuse. Governmental power tends to attract those most likely to abuse power, and since “power corrupts”, the entity that our prudent forefathers saw as the single biggest threat to individual liberty was the government itself. Consequently, the second amendment was drafted as the safegaurd to liberty and freedom.

But therein lies another problem. Liberty and freedom come with a high price: risk. When citizens are guaranteed the right to arm themselves, that, unfortunately, also guarantees that right to those that, for whatever reason, choose to harm other citizens. This in turn leads to events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, the Washington Naval Yard, etc., etc., etc.

But they felt that the prize of liberty justifies the risk. They held that the right to liberty had to be balanced with the responsibility to defend that liberty. In other words, the liberated bear, or at the very least share, responsibility for their own safety and security.

This, in turn, requires that the citizens acknowledge a stark truth about life; a truth that is equally cogent regardless of the form of government: no one, not the government, the church, your family, your friends, or even you, can guarantee your safety. After all, the leading, and only universal, cause of death is life. No one gets out alive and no one knows how long their life will last.

Facing this truth highlights the futility and naivety of attempting to charge any other person or institution with the task of providing you with protection. The closest that can be done is reserved for the very rich and powerful in the forms of personal security squads, but even these fail as witnessed by the assassination of presidents, diplomats, and the uber-rich.

I’d like to say that this leads to a secondary reason for the second amendment: the right to protect one’s life and property from criminals. I’d like to say that, but it wouldn’t be true. The second amendment simply does not address this. But the reason it does not, is because the founding fathers never imagined it needed to.

In the context of the 18th century, the right to bear arms in self defense was so universally acknowledged, that it never occurred to anyone that it needed to be overtly stated. Remember, this was an era where killing someone for besmirching your honor was viewed as the only reasonable course of action for a true man. Consequently, I believe, this particular right was simply omitted as an amendment.

It can be argued, however, that it was strongly implied in the Declaration of Independence in the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The “right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” strongly implies the right to defend against anyone that would attempt to take life, liberty, or happiness through any means for any cause save to safeguard those rights for another.

The bearing of weapons for protection against evil doers was simply viewed as a normal, rational action.

Of course, bearing a personal weapon does not guarantee your safety. If an assailant ambushes you, nothing short of a “force field” straight out of Star Trek will save you. At best, bearing a weapon simply provides a means to possibly level the playing field in the event of an attack in which you survive the initial shots. But this pragmatic view of the personal right, and even duty, to bear arms for the purpose of self defense, was born of the inescapable truth that the ultimate responsibility for self protection lies with the self.

Law enforcement, by it’s very nature, can rarely provide a first line of defense, rather serving in a reactive capacity to punish offense in the hopes of providing a deterrent to future offenders. Of course, this doesn’t do a lot of good for the dearly departed cut down by a criminal. Worse yet, the deterrent efficacy of legal punishment has a dismal track record over the millennia of the human governmental experiment.

Unfortunately, the jarring truth is that we, as citizens of a free country, are not only never really secure, despite the best efforts of our various law enforcement agencies, but that we must personally assume the risk of providing ourselves means of self protection or be willing to suffer the consequences of failing to do so.

That poses a problem in a democracy (well, really a constitutional republic) comprised of ordinary people that very much desire to live in peace and tranquility with as little personal risk as possible. It is a problem of delusional thinking wherein the desire to feel secure leads to the delusion that we can somehow achieve this end by banning all the “bad weapons”.

Thomas Jefferson even warned us of this danger when he wrote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” He knew that the only way the citizens of this country could remain free was to accept the personal burden to be eternally vigilant against any and all oppressors, be they governments or criminals. (All too often, the government is simply the biggest criminal of all.)

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have forgotten, or never bothered to learn, the lessons of history. They want safety so badly, they are willing to sign away the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution for, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises”. They fail to comprehend, or even entertain the possibility, that they are unleashing a many headed hydra in the hopes of escaping threats by lions and tigers, and bears (oh my!). Granted, the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) are fearful and all too often wreck terrible havoc. But compared to the hydra, they are like mewling kittens or spitting cubs. But the fantasy is strong, and thus is borne a movement to limit gun ownership.

And who is the logical entity to turn to in order to achieve this goal? Why, the government, of course. Who else posses the legal means to enforce a ban? Who else can be trusted so?

For better or worse, most modern Americans have come to view the government as a sort of benevolent, gentle force looking out for everybody’s best interest. And, of course, those in power benefit from this perception. The more we trust them, the more power they have. Even some of our politicians genuinely believe in the goodness of government and the rightness of their cause.

But simply wishing for something to be true does not make it so. History has shown time and again that governmental power, even in a “democracy”, can be subverted by the manipulations of a few unscrupulous, power hungry individuals willing to use fear and patriotism to turn the power of government into the greatest beast of all. A beast that devours its own citizens by stripping them of their rights. This is almost always done in the name of security.

In every case where this has happened, the majority even believe that they are being made more secure and willingly support the persecution of fellow citizens accused by the government of criminal and / or seditious acts. In today’s America, it would probably be the Muslims that would be the first to be oppressed. But it wouldn’t end there. Some other group would be next, and then another. And the whole while, our freedoms would be slipping away.

Many of you reading this are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “that could never happen here.” Oh, how I wish that were true, but once again, an examination of history reveals that the majority always believes that until long past the time when it is too late to prevent despotic rule.

So the question before the house is this: would gun control result in greater or lesser security?

Let me examine one side of that question by asking a slightly more specific question: would banning certain types of weapons result in fewer mass killings? This question can actually be answered by examining real life examples. For instance, the Australian model of banning and confiscating all semi-autos and large capacity magazines has indeed practically eliminated mass killings in that nation. So in the the strictest sense, the answer to this question is yes, it can work to reduce gun violence. But ceding to the government the power to confiscate weapons raises another crucial question: at what price is this reduction purchased?

And that brings us back to the question of trust. Do we trust the government enough to give up a right explicitly guaranteed by our constitution?

That further begs the question, is our national distrust of government a good thing or a bad thing? Are the citizens of the U.K. right in their trust of government? Or is it more prudent to trust the founding fathers and maintain a healthy distrust?

As Shakespeare would say, “Ah, there’s the rub!” That is the million dollar question. Can you trust the government? Are we simply being paranoid?

Some would argue that you can have it both ways by asserting that it is reasonable to interpret the second amendment as meaning that citizens are allowed to bear the types of arms sufficient for self defense, but ill suited for mass murder?

Of course, defenders of the second amendment would argue that any attempt to curtail the right of citizens to bear any type of weapon gives the government too much power? This is the famous “slippery slope” argument employed in the debates over banning private ownership of automatic weapons.

These aren’t easy questions to answer since the second amendment is rather vague as to the meaning of bear arms. After all, carrying around hand grenades or small nukes is generally considered to be an unreasonable interpretation. So where exactly does one draw the line?

Further muddying the waters is the fact that many “assault” weapons are nothing more than standard hunting rifles repackaged with a different stock and frequently sporting a larger magazine. Either weapon will kill you just as dead. It is also true, that any individual intent on committing a mass killing, would always be able to do so with standard hunting weapons or even with a revolver. Even if you restricted weapons down to single fire weapons, a determined shooter could still do major damage in most situations where the victims were not armed.

More disturbing is the realization that some of the greatest mass murders were perpetrated using no firearms whatsoever. One only needs a quick search of the internet, or even a trip to the library, to acquire the knowledge to build a bomb like that used in Oklahoma that killed far more people, 168, than all of the recent mass shootings combined. Or, for that spur of the moment mass murder, all that is needed is a car barreling through a crowded mall walk, or a can of gasoline and a match: the Happy Land fire.

So the ugly truth is, you simply cannot stop those determined on killing no matter how many laws you pass or weapons you confiscate. The only thing that can ever be done to cut back on violent crime, including but not limited to gun violence, is to attack the underlying problems that lead people to attack others. Here is my personal lists of necessary steps that must be taken if we are ever to achieve a society where peace and prosperity have a chance to flourish.

  1. We must make significant investments in mental health facilities.
  2. We must confront the institutional racism codified in our laws, typified by such programs as the “war on drugs”. (If you want peace, fight for justice.) The government needs to get out of the business of telling us what we can and cannot put in our bodies. (I say this as someone who has never used any currently “illegal” substance. I have used the formerly illegal drug known as alcohol.) Drug laws aren’t about preventing citizens from hurting themselves by ingesting “bad” substances. They are about money and power. Money raised from the illegal drug trade (which finds its way into the hands of politicians one way or another in order to ensure that they stay illegal) and power to remove “undesirables” from our streets at the discretion of the arresting officer. So, if the officer has racist tendencies, the “undesirables” are those of the “wrong” race. So all that has to be done to eliminate a large number of “those people” from the streets, is to more vigorously look for “illegal” drugs in the possession of the target group. Bingo! Off to prison you go.
  3. Speaking of racism, we must open a national debate on the divisions created by racism masquerading as “culture”. Racism goes both ways. (Or, more accurately, in all directions.)
  4. We must find a way to unite as a single American people, regardless of race, religion, or creed. We must meld ourselves into a single, American culture, at least to the point of agreeing on a basic set of societal norms. (At a minimum, we must come to recognize the value of education and hard work.)
  5. We must fight against the glorification of violence in our media, not by legislation, but by what we choose to encourage by the spending of our time, attention, and money.
  6. We must rise up as citizens and demand reform in our government involving the influence of corporate money.
  7. We must address the rapidly dwindling middle class. (If you are snorting in derision at this, then you truly are deluded. Just because you have your piece of the pie, does not mean that it is available to all that work hard to earn it.) This must be done by the citizens at both ends of the income brackets realizing that we all need each other. You can not legislate this effectively. It has to be done voluntarily.
  8. We absolutely must eradicate any and all forms of bullying. Bullying is all too often the root cause of the emotional damage that leads to hate filled rampages involving guns. (Or axes, knives, arrows, bombs, cars, lead pipes, baseball bats, etc)

There are more things that need fixing, but if we could even make significant steps in addressing these items, we would make significant strides toward creating a society where everyone feels like they have a chance to succeed, where all citizens feel valued (or at least don’t feel so devalued), and where violence would cease to be viewed as glamorous.

My point in all this is actually a very simple one: gun control is not a simple issue. Banning weapons of any sort may buy us some short term relief, but that very same thing may well open us to a much greater danger in the long run.

Both sides are convinced of the validity of their own beliefs and, unfortunately, are usually unwilling to even concede any merit  to any assertions of the “other” side. To me, that is a major problem, because that reveals that the question of distrust is not confined to feelings about our government, but extends to a feeling toward those that disagree with our views about this issue. And that is possibly a greater danger than even that posed by a government run amok, because profound division among our citizens is a formula for disaster.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

And so, we find ourselves with a lot of work to do: work to open an honest debate that honors the concerns of both sides; work to wrestle in our own souls with the questions of personal responsibility; work to racially unify our nation and heal the abuses of the past; work that must be done. But the first step is to understand the role of trust… and, perhaps, prudent distrust.

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My Octoberfest Beverage at Pepi’s Bar & Restaurant in Vail Village – Yum!

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Sleepy Girl in the Swing

She fought with all her might. She was determined to avoid her nap. But she was no match for the power of the swing.

http://youtu.be/tfN-mbkKJKg

Love me that Emma!

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Emm’a new playhouse.

Emma is staying with us this weekend and discovered the empty box used to ship a small bean bag chair. As small children are wont to do, she immediately used her imagination to transform the box into a new playhouse. SO cute.

http://youtu.be/a5DKOcEVRXA

Then, my cat, Buggers, decided to get in on the act. 🙂

http://youtu.be/xMr5vxzwclE

Enjoy,

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Chick-a-roni and cheese is a big hit

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Emma loves her boots.

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Ice! Ice! Susu!

Susu gettin’ jiggy wid it at Kristin Firenza’s wedding reception.

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Never

Never be ashamed of things that make you different,
Or try to hide those traits that make you stand apart,
For in them you will find the essence of your being,
The beauty and the grace that God placed in your heart.

To be great, you must, by definition, be different. Be you and be not afraid.

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The Mighty Fishermen. Caught 8 in the bay.

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Bye bye, Seacrest Beach.

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The beach crew posing on our final evening in Florida with the birthday girl front and center.

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Emma really enjoyed her dinner. :)

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Emma’s new “hat”. :)

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Miracle in Drywall

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My son and daughter in law just bought their first home, and today we began the process of redecorating in prep for the big move in. Part of the process involved removing floor to ceiling mirrors and then prepping the wall to be floated. During the prep, I suddenly realized that a miracle had appeared on the wall where the mirror adhesive had torn away. In it’s place, as you can plainly see, appeared the image of Jesus in profile. At least, that was my first impression. After further inspection, however, I began to think it looked somewhat like Cochise. After some debate on the issue, we decided it was a combination of the two, so we dubbed it “Cochesus” to honor both men. 🙂

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First Magnolia of the Spring

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Wish I could attach the fragrance. Heavenly!

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Sunflowers and Other Beauties

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Happy Mother’s Day from my Wildflower Garden to your Heart

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Preparing to watch Whitney graduate. Woohoo!

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Emma’s Baptism Cake

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Yum!

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Emma Gets Baptized

Emma was baptized by Josef Klam in the chapel at Chapelwood this morning. It was a wonderful ceremony. Enjoy. 🙂

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Emma’s 1st birthday.

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Nom, nom, nom. Good cupcake. 🙂

 

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Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear Emma…

 

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Mommy, Daddy, and Emma getting ready to nosh on some birthday cupcakes. 🙂

 

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Emma Tickling Mommy by Gnawing her Knee

Emma is teething and decided to try out her new teeth on her momma. The result was quite hilarious. 🙂

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Big Girl Swinging

Emma loves her swing.

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The Curse of Tribal Mindset

From the very earliest accounts of human history, our species has always been tribal, and the result of this tribal mentality has been a never ending litany of misery. Tribal thinking is “them or us” thinking which is precisely why we are such a cantankerous race. The tragedy of this mentality is that it is so completely false. There is no “them”, there is only “us”. If we, as a species, were ever to truly internalize that, it would change everything.

Tribal mentality can be beneficial when dealing with our own tribe, our “us”. After all, most people will go to great lengths to tolerate, befriend, and help those we think of as “us”. But this same mentality can be disastrous when dealing with tribal outsiders, our “them”. It is very easy to persecute, shun, and impede those we think of as “them”. After all, they aren’t “good folks like us”. No, they are “them”.

Tribal thinking can be very convenient. I don’t have to care about what happens to “them”. “They” aren’t “our own”. Besides, “charity begins at home”, right? It’s so convenient not to have to be bothered with the needs of “them”.

And, of course, tribal thinking is at the core of the whole concept of nations. So much so, that it’s safe to say that nationhood is the physical manifestation of tribalism. And then we wonder why we have so much war. Really? This is a system set up according to concepts that practically guarantee war, since it is a system inherently designed to define who is “us” and who is “them”.

Let’s not fool ourselves, though. Tribal thinking isn’t just about nations or actual “clans”. It’s about all human relations. It’s ubiquitous. “They” can be found in many guises.

“They” can be “illegals” who “should be sent back to their own country” or worse. “They” can be “sinners” who should be punished for not being “good folks like us”. And when bad things happen to “them”, we can relish their “punishment” with smug delight since “they are only gettin’ what’s comin’ to ’em”. “They” can be “tea sippers”, or “tea partiers” or “commies” or “fags” or “rag heads” or “niggers” or “bitches” or “Frogs” or “wet backs” or “Muslims” or “Christians” or “Jews” or “Mormons” or “WASPS” or “Ho’s” or “morons” or “weirdos” or “rich” or “poor” or “conservative” or “liberal” or…

Yeshua warned us about judging. He implored us to “love one another” and to even “love your enemy”. And when he suffered and died, he didn’t do it for just the tribe of Judah. No, he did it for every single one of “us”. He only knew “us”. No “them”.

For God so loved the WORLD…

Get it? The WORLD. Us. ALL OF US.

I’ve come to understand that one of the earmarks of “sin” is the belief in “them or us”; the denial of the universal “us”.

Why oh why do we continue to do this to ourselves? Why do we cast about trying to blame all the wrong things for our misery. It’s not the guns, or the drugs, or alcohol, or TV or video games, or anything else. Those are just things. The problem comes from within. It is the way we THINK. It is what is in our hearts and minds. “There is nothing outside of a man that enters into him that can defile him, but the thing that proceeds from him, that is what defiles the man.” [Mark 7:15]. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. [Proverbs 23:7]

I quote scripture here, but isn’t that really overkill. Isn’t it self evident? The way we think is who we are. The problem is that there is a distinct lack of thought given to exactly what it is we are thinking. We operate on autopilot most of the time: simply being, but not really analyzing our assumptions. We accept our tribal mindset and go blindly about our lives like so many busy worker bees. Too busy to be bothered with something so tedious as soul searching.

No, we’d rather sit watching the game, or reruns of “Friends”, or the latest episode of “Honey Boo Boo” to ever bother with examining what lives in our hearts and minds.

The ironic thing about this post is that the majority of people that read it and nod in agreement are the ones most likely to be caught up in the tribal mindset trap. In fact, if you have ever asked yourself the question, “What is wrong with these people? Can’t they see..”, then congratulations, you are tribal.

I will admit it straight up. I have fallen into the tribal trap on far more occasions, especially when driving in Houston, than I care to admit. I enjoy feeling superior. That’s part of the whole tribal experience. The thrill of being “in” looking down on those that are “out”. That makes me sad, that I am so insecure that I fall into the trap.

There is only one cure. Love. To break out of the tribal trap, you have to open your heart to Love. Note the capitol L. Love has to own you. You have to be so filled with Love, that you have no capacity to ever think of anyone, and I do mean anyone, as “them”. Only then will you, by the nature of what is in your heart, truly comprehend the universal “us”. Only then will you belong to the one single tribe called humanity.

And if you do manage to arrive at such a state, good for you. You will probably be in a very tiny minority. Odds are that the vast majority of folks will continue on down the tribal path, so your achievement is not likely to “change the world”, at least not in a grand universal sort of way. It will, however, change your world, in a very profound sort of way. And that, in the final analysis, is all you can hope for because your own world, the one that originates inside of you, is the only world over which you have any actually control.

Shalom.

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